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After 55 years of dairying, Fall Creek farmer exits industry

FALL CREEK — Like 43 other Wisconsin farmers, Norman and Jane Anderson of Sweet Pine Farm in Fall Creek quit the dairy industry in June.

After 55 years of milking cows, it wasn’t an easy decision to make, Norman Anderson said, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t easy to accomplish.

But on June 15, Anderson milked his cows for the final time before loading the herd onto trailers for their journey to new homes.

“It hasn’t hit too hard, because I’ve got too many undone things yet,” he said. “The situation of late is, I’ve got three tractors that went down that all need maintenance.”

The Andersons had been planning their exit from the dairy industry for several months. Norman said milk prices taking a hit at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. was just another factor in their decision.

But because of COVID-19, the path out of dairying wasn’t as straightforward as it otherwise might have been. Not only did dairy prices take a hit at the onset of COVID-19, but cattle prices did as well, and the Andersons didn’t want to part with their herd for less than a fair price.

“Jane’s going to retire, and I thought I’d pull my horns in a little bit after she retired,” Norman said. “And then with COVID, the cattle market took a plunge, so we held back for a couple months.”

Norman had planned to crop more of his farm this summer, but because he pastured his cattle he had to hold off on planting the last 35 acres.

“So my corn didn’t get planted until the day after the cows were gone,” he said.

The Andersons were milking about 30 cows at the end of their dairying. The farm’s tie-stall barn was designed to hold 35 animals. Over the years, Anderson added a pipeline, a pack barn and designed his own single-6 step-up parlor and expanded to milking 60 head.

“I’d do it all over again if I had to,” Norman said. “There are things you wish you wouldn’t have done this or would have done that, but operations like what’s here, there’s not that many more of anymore.

“I hope we see the small dairies continue. It’s kind of a family thing, which is the biggest, most important part of the small dairy industry.”

Numbers declining

As of Jan. 1, Wisconsin was home to 7,292 dairy farms. By July 1, the number of dairy herds in the state had dipped to 7,079, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Wisconsin field office.

Wisconsin lost a total of 818 milk cow herds in 2019. The rate of decline had slowed in early 2020, but 45 dairy farmers exited the business in May and 44 followed in June.

After five years of depressed milk prices, a turnaround looked like it was on its way in late 2019 and early this year, but the coronavirus pandemic put an end to that recovery.

The Wisconsin all milk price for May 2020 was $13.60 per hundredweight, according to the June 30 NASS Agricultural Prices report. That was 40 cents lower than last month’s price and $4.60 lower than last May’s price.

June’s prices were projected to rebound, but Norman was worried that wouldn’t last.

“Right now there’s a pie-in-the-sky idea that milk will be better priced, but it’s just going to be for a short time, I’m thinking,” he said.

Family operation

Sweet Pine Farm has been in the Anderson family since 1885. The original homestead and a neighboring parcel added by Norman’s grandfather in 1936 make up the 240-acre home farm. Another 107 acres to the north of the home farm were added to the farmstead when his grandfather married his grandmother.

Norman, who is about to turn 73, had been milking for 55 years. He took over from his father not long after graduating high school. His milking herd started with the gift of a 4-H animal from his father and five cows he bought while in high school. Norman said his father didn’t want him to feel tied to the family farm, so he attended short course at UW-Madison.

“He gave me the impression I should venture out to do something I wanted to, but I guess I had my mind made up,” he said.

Norman said that due to low milk prices and wanting to get out while he’s got his health, he’s been thinking about leaving the industry for about four years.

“We’d been making plans, but I guess I enjoyed it too much to say, ‘I’m done’,” he said.

“The reality of the situation is, he’s the person would stay positive no matter how bad it got,” said Christine Engler, the couple’s daughter and one of their four children. “He would have hung on to the end, but it just doesn’t look like it’s going to get better.”

Maintaining dairy barn

Norman said he plans to maintain the dairy barn just in case it can ever be of use again. His son, Wade, has some interest in the farm, and Norman said he’d be willing to mentor a farmer hoping to get into dairying.

“I’ll take care of what we’ve got here, and if there is a good future for someone, they definitely could step in,” he said.

Norman said his leaving the dairying behind comes at a good time, since he and Jane are healthy. He said he’s had a couple close calls with cows over the years, and the couple survived another close call while being trapped in a silo about four years ago.

Norman was trying to clear haylage from a clogged chute when he got trapped in a silo. Jane also got trapped in the chute after going to look for him when he didn’t come in from the barn for dinner.

“He told me not to come out to help him, because I was sewing tree skirts for the kids for Christmas,” she said. “I looked at my watch and said, ‘Oh, shoot, he’s not in for supper.’

“I bundled up and went out looking for him. It’s an eerie feeling when you walk into the barn and there’s no sound in the barn other than the cows bellering.”

Jane was trapped when she tried to clear the chute herself. Luckily, Jane had called 911 before going out to look for Norman, and rescuers found both of them after figuring out which silo they were in.

“I get teased about it a bit,” Norman said. “But at least we can get teased about it.”

The Andersons kept about 25 youngstock from the herd. They have chickens and plan to raise a few beef cattle and to continue to sell beef, eggs and produce from Jane’s five gardens locally.

“She’s got a green thumb,” Norman said. “She’s got all her gardens, so she has plenty to do.”

And while the dairying is done, the farming adventures have continued.

“We woke up this morning to cows all over the yard,” Jane said. “I had to watch to make sure they didn’t head through the garden. That’s always the thing, everything comes up nice and then one of them heads through the garden.”

AP centerpiece
Chicago suffering from poor air quality

CHICAGO — After missing out on cleaner air during the coronavirus lockdown, the Chicago area just suffered its longest streak of high-pollution days in more than a decade.

Nine consecutive days of bad air swept through the region amid an emerging scientific link between exposure to pollution and COVID-19 death rates. Low-income, predominantly Black and Latino communities are being hit the hardest.

Air quality has been so poor, the entire Chicago area ended up dirtier than notoriously smog-choked Los Angeles during the beginning of the month, according to a Chicago Tribune review of federal data.

Satellites and land-based monitors tracked how unusually hot, sunny weather in the Midwest baked exhaust from automobile tailpipes, diesel engines and factory smokestacks into smog, also known as ground-level ozone.

Independence Day celebrations added to the problem. Stagnant air prevented soot pollution released by fireworks from dispersing, increasing the likelihood that even healthy people had trouble breathing during the holiday weekend.

Lake Michigan also played a role. Smog-forming pollutants — scientists call them precursors — collect over the lake on sunny days, then drift inland during late afternoons.

“If you have precursors cooking up in this sunny zone and then the lake breeze pushes all of that air back toward the shore, it can make for a really crummy day,” said Patricia Cleary, a University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire chemist involved in a federal study of smog sources and trends in Lake Michigan states.

The lake effect often leaves vacation spots like Door County, Wisconsin, and Saugutuck, Michigan, with more high-smog days than Chicago. But not so far this year.

Unhealthy air

Swells of lung-damaging, life-shortening pollution prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify seven of the first nine days of July as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in Chicago and its suburbs, meaning children, older adults and people with lung or heart disease should limit outdoor activity.

Both days after the Fourth of July fell into the “unhealthy” category. Everyone is advised to cut back on being outside on those days.

Chronically dirty air is one of the consequences of extreme weather triggered by climate change.

“We are seeing an ever increasing number of warmer days where it is more likely to have larger ozone production and other air quality issues,” said Donald Wuebbles, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Illinois. “While emissions in some ways may be decreasing somewhat, the tendency of the changing climate is to produce more days where air quality can be an issue.”

President Donald Trump’s administration agrees, on paper at least. Its 2018 National Climate Assessment concluded that “Midwestern populations are already experiencing adverse health impacts from climate change, and these impacts are expected to worsen in the future.”

At the same time, Trump has spent the past three years weakening clean air regulations. His political appointees have repeatedly brushed aside recommendations from independent scientists finding smog and soot are more dangerous than previously thought.

In April, for instance, the Trump EPA declined to tighten national standards for soot, siding with Republican lawmakers and industry lobbyists who for decades have fought regulations requiring progressively less pollution from vehicles, power plants, factories and oil refineries.

The administration also overruled career EPA staff and trimmed the number of counties in the Chicago area required to adopt smog-fighting measures such as more stringent limits on industrial pollution, tailpipe-emissions monitoring and vapor controls on gasoline pumps.

Fighting smog

“Obviously Illinois isn’t doing enough to reduce ozone smog levels,” said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health policy at the Respiratory Health Association of Chicago. “The problem persists year after year, and people’s lungs suffer the effects.”

Urbaszewski’s organization and other environmental groups are fighting back with lawsuits and political pressure. They often are joined by lawyers for Democratic-led city and state governments, including Chicago and Illinois.

One such legal challenge prompted a federal appeals court Friday to order the Trump EPA to reconsider its 2018 decision absolving all or part of 16 counties from joining their urban neighbors in fighting smog.

Among those affected are northwest suburban McHenry County, Porter County, Ind., Ottawa County, Mich., and 10 Lake Michigan counties in Wisconsin. Smog concentrations in the counties either exceed federal standards or contribute to violations in downwind communities.

Documents in government files show Trump appointees dropped McHenry from its latest list of smog violators after a letter and phone call from Alec Messina, an industry lobbyist who at the time served as director of the Illinois EPA under then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia noted the Trump EPA failed to defend why it relaxed smog-fighting requirements in McHenry. Monitoring data shows air pollution in the county is on the rise.

“This incongruity … renders EPA’s explanation suspect,” the court concluded.

Under provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, more stringent regulation of industrial emissions will almost certainly be required in the Chicago area if current trends continue.

“It’s complicated, but the weather has been very conducive this year to smog,” said Zac Adelman, executive director of the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, a group of state officials from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Sources sought

Researchers eventually will be able to identify sources of recent smog and soot pollution by analyzing the chemical composition of particles collected inside filter-based monitoring equipment.

Similar to what occurred during the lockdown, likely culprits include buildings, factories and diesel engines that burn coal, oil or natural gas. Diesel emissions in particular remain a problem in Chicago, a racially segregated freight hub where rail yards, warehouses and intermodal facilities are concentrated in low-income, predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Those areas also are suffering disproportionately from the COVID-19 disease. A team of Harvard data scientists recently determined that a person living for decades in a county with high levels of soot is 8% more likely to die from the coronavirus than someone in an area with one microgram less of the pollution per cubic meter of air.

The Tribune reported in May that average daily soot concentrations in the Chicago area declined by only 1% the previous month compared with April 2019. By contrast, soot levels in New York City dropped 28%; Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles and St. Louis each saw a 16% decline in the tiny particles of pollution during the first full month of shelter-in-place orders.

Conditions worsened as summer arrived. Chicago recorded the most “unhealthy” days in June since 2012, the Tribune analysis found.

With more hot, sunny weather in the forecast, air quality likely will remain poor for the rest of July.

Florida hits record virus case increase

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With the United States grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, Florida hit a grim milestone Sunday, shattering the national record for a state’s largest single-day increase in positive cases.

Deaths from the virus have also been rising in the U.S., especially in the South and West, though still well below the heights hit in April, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

“I really do think we could control this, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we’re in a crisis, and we’re definitely not doing it,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins.

Adm. Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, called mask-wearing in public, which has been met with resistance in some U.S. states, “absolutely essential.”

Giroir, the assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that “if we don’t have that, we will not get control of the virus.’’

President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time Saturday, something Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday showed he has “crossed a bridge.”

Pelosi told CNN’s “State of the Union” that she hopes it means the president “will change his attitude, which will be helpful in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.”

In Florida, where parts of Walt Disney World reopened Saturday, 15,299 people tested positive, for a total of 269,811 cases, and 45 deaths were recorded, according to state Department of Health statistics reported Sunday.

California had the previous record of daily positive cases: 11,694, set on Wednesday.

The numbers come at the end of a record-breaking week as Florida reported 514 fatalities — an average of 73 per day. Three weeks ago, the state was averaging 30 deaths per day.

Researchers expect deaths to rise in the U.S. for at least some weeks, but some think the count probably will not go up as dramatically as it did in the spring because of several factors, including increased testing.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, reported another record increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases over a 24-hour period, at over 230,000.

The U.N. health agency said the United States again topped the list among countries, with more than 66,000 cases. The figures don’t necessarily account for delays in reporting cases, and are believed to far underestimate actual totals.

Countries in Eastern Europe were among those facing rising waves of new infections, leading to riots in Serbia, mandatory face masks in Croatia and travel bans or quarantines imposed by Hungary.

“We see worrisome signs about an increase in the number of cases in the neighboring countries, Europe and the whole world,” said Gergely Gulyas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff. “Now, we have to protect our own security and prevent the virus from being brought in from abroad.”

Hungarian authorities said Sunday they have sorted countries into three categories — red, yellow and green — based on their rates of new coronavirus infections, and will impose restrictions, including entry bans and mandatory quarantines, depending on which country people are arriving from.

Serbia, where health authorities are warning that hospitals are almost full due to the latest surge, reported 287 new infections on Sunday, although there have been increasing doubts about the accuracy of the figures. Officially, the country has over 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March. Sunday’s report of 11 coronavirus deaths was the country’s second-highest daily death toll.

Serbian police clashed with anti-government protesters for four nights last week, demonstrations that forced the Serbian president to withdraw plans to reintroduce a coronavirus lockdown. Many of the increasing infections have been blamed on crowded soccer matches, tennis events and nightclubs.

In Bulgaria, authorities reintroduced restrictions lifted a few weeks ago because of a new surge in cases.

Albania also has seen a significant increase in infections since mid-May, when it eased lockdown measures. The Balkan nation reported 93 new cases, over twice as many as the highest daily figures in March and April, and the health ministry called the situation at the main infectious disease hospital “grave.”

“Don’t lower vigilance and respect hygiene rules,” Albanian health authorities urged.

Croatia, whose island-dotted Adriatic Sea coast is a major tourist destination, is making wearing masks mandatory in stores beginning Monday.

Yet the numbers of infections in Eastern Europe pale in comparison to daily coronavirus reports from India, South Africa and Brazil, whose virus-denying president has tested positive.

India, which has the most cases after the United States and Brazil, saw a record surge of 28,637 cases reported in the past 24 hours. Authorities also announced a weeklong lockdown beginning Tuesday in the key southern technology hub of Bangalore, where the offices of top tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are located.

South Africa has reported over 10,000 new daily cases for several days in a row, including 13,497 new infections announced Saturday night. Johannesburg’s densely populated Soweto township is one of the virus hot spots. With over 264,000 cases and 3,971 deaths, South Africa accounts for over 40% of all the reported coronavirus cases in Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Sunday the country would return to a ban of alcohol sales to reduce the volume of trauma patients so that hospitals have more beds to treat COVID-19. The country is also reinstating a night curfew to reduce traffic accidents and has made it mandatory for all residents to wear face masks in public.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, which kept its coronavirus outbreak to a few hundred cases, an annual film festival wrapped up with an awards ceremony this weekend where actors and others lined up for photo shoots with no social distancing, and participants didn’t wear masks.


Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.


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